Document 131386

Michael Sanden is a
Swedish-born guitar
builder who studied the art of
acoustic guitar construction in
the USA before returning to his
native Scandinavia. Sanden’s
fine steel- and nylon-strung
guitars enjoy a fervent cult
following among some of the
region’s finest guitarists, and
word of Sanden’s skill has seen
the softly spoken Swede’s fame
gradually extend further afield.
Sanden’s name will doubtless
become more familiar to GB
readers in due course, but for
now the shapely form of the
Sanden JRB-m represents a
rather fitting introduction.
Ostensibly a modified version of the
classic dreadnought design with a
tighter, higher waistline, this guitar’s
real talking point is the unique fret
design, which is said to eliminate the
compromise between tempered and
pure tuning (see box on page 72 for a
more detailed explanation) that has
frustrated guitarists since the design of
the modern guitar was established
nearly 200 years ago.
This guitar is fitted with the unique
‘True Temperament’ fret system
system, with specially designed
‘wobbly’ frets that are said to
maintain perfect tuning all the
way up the fingerboard. True
Temperament was developed by
a small company based in
Stockholm, and Sanden is
one of the few people
officially licensed to use
the system on his
PRICE: £3,150
(as reviewed)
BUILT IN: Sweden
(25.5 inches)
(1.73 inches)
STRING SPACING AT NUT: 37.5mm (1.48 inches)
TOP: Sitka spruce
BACK & SIDES: Indian
NECK: Honduras mahogany
FRETS: 21 medium
True Temperament (plus
zero fret), silicon bronze
BRIDGE: Brazilian
BRIDGE: 52.5mm
(2.1 inches)
preamp & undersaddle
gold with ebony buttons
WEIGHT: 2.25kg (5lbs)
CASE: Hiscox hard shell
case included
LEFT-HANDERS: By special
OPTIONS: Without True
Temperament frets
Sanden Guitars
PHONE: +46414 20107
instruments, such is the high regard
held for his work. True Temperament
frets are an optional extra on every
Sanden instrument. They don’t come
cheap, but it is nevertheless an
interesting approach to solving the
age-old dilemma of keeping an
‘imperfect’ instrument like a guitar
perfectly in tune.
This may look more like a cutaway
version of a Grand Auditorium-style
guitar, but Michael Sanden claims that
the model’s roots are very firmly
planted in the traditional dreadnought
style. Sanden took his influence for
this design from master guitar builder
Bozo Padunavac, under whom Sanden
studied in America during the early
1980s. “He had a dreadnought kind of
shape where he’d moved the waist up
a little bit, which he called ‘bellshaped’,” Sanden explains. “When I
started to make my own guitars I took
that shape and I rounded it up even
more. I kept the waist higher than a
standard dreadnought but the depth
still remains the same.”
Michael Sanden has very clear
feelings about the materials he uses on
his guitars. He prefers his timbers
traditional and the quality has to be
top-notch. Sanden travels to America ,
Europe and Britain to source the
various woods used for his guitars, and
this instrument features a high-quality
Sitka spruce top found near Seattle in
America’s Pacific Northwest, while
Indian rosewood forms the guitar’s
back and sides. The internal bracing
uses a traditional ‘X’ pattern, with
individual struts that are sanded or
‘tuned’ to find the optimum resonant
point and allow the Sitka spruce top to
really sing.
The pale Honduran mahogany neck
features some fine details including a
single elegant black pinstripe running
dead centre all the way up from the
neck heel to the volute, which is there
to strengthen the vulnerable area
where the headstock tilts back away
from the main neck shaft. The
headstock angle itself is another
interesting detail that offers insight
into Sanden’s particular interests as a
guitarist in his own right.
A self-confessed fan of alternate
tunings – with DADGAD in particular
being a favourite – Sanden builds his
guitars with a slightly steeper
headstock angle than specified by
many standard designs in order to
compensate for the slacker string
tension of lowered alternate tunings.
“A lot of my customers want to tune
their guitars down,” Sanden says.
“One of the reasons my guitars are
suited to alternate tunings is because I
have a zero-fret and my head angle is a
little bit steeper than normal. I
increase the angle of the head to keep
the pressure on the zero-fret and keep
the intonation right so they work
better for different kinds of tunings.
Normally a headstock pitch is between
15 and 17 degrees and mine are
around 20 or 21 degrees.”
The neck dimensions offer a
pleasing combination of robustness
and playability. It is definitely a meaty
chunk of timber and, while the overall
feel leans more towards the the
March 2008
n The frets are shaped to
be in the right place for
each note on each fret
■ Guitarists are often
frustrated when they try to
tune a guitar so that open
chords and barred chords both
sound completely in tune.
With any standard guitar,
regardless of whether it is an
expensive, hand-built work of art
or a budget-priced bash-box,
tuning involves a certain degree
of compromise. The straight
frets are arranged at regular
divisions of the overall scale
length to provide a 12-tone
equal-tempered scale. In
practice, however, factors like
the gauge, mass and height of
the strings come into play, and
this theoretically perfect
system produces imperfect
results – tune your guitar so
that the open E-major chord
sounds perfectly in tune, and
the open A-major chord is likely
to sound slightly out of tune.
The True Temperament
fretting system (see for
more information) addresses
this problem by changing the
shape of each fret to ‘tune’
each individual note, removing
the need to compromise.
Michael Sanden explains why the
True Temperament system
appeals to him: “I always try to
get my guitars to sound as
good as possible. Without
interfering with your style of
playing, True Temperament is
more or less dead accurate in
whatever tuning you play – you
play a C chord and then a D
chord and it sounds completely
clean. Normally, everything is a
little bit ‘off’ – it’s 95 percent
good if you are lucky! This
system works all the way up the
neck. That’s what convinced me
to offer this as an extra option
if you order a guitar. One of the
most noticeable things about
this system is the way that the
chord decays. On a standard
guitar, the notes kind of
interfere with each other, but
with this guitar the wave is just
the same on all of the notes.
When you listen really carefully
you can hear that the decay is
really nice – the notes are more
sympathetic. It gives the guitar
a different kind of sound from
the standard guitars that
we build, but its an
intriguing one. I think that
this could go either way:
either all guitars in the
world will have it in five years or
it will be one of those things
that you can add if you need it
to be really, really accurate.
“We’ve also experimented
with how far we can detune the
guitar before it goes out of
tune,” Sanden explains. “If you
take a tuning like DADGAD, it
works really well, but if you go
below C, you’re gonna get in
trouble. Within the range of
normal guitar playing, if you
tune it down a little bit it
works really well,
its no problem.”
relatively easy playability demanded
by most modern guitar players, this
still feels like an instrument built for
habitual acoustic guitarists who are
used to digging in and working a little
bit harder. This guitar doesn’t feel like
a typical Takemine or Taylor that you
can sling around you neck after
dumping your electric for a few songs
and barely notice the difference. It
feels a lot more serious and
consequently less forgiving – you’d
better have your acoustic chops in
guitarbuyer March 2008
n The soundhole rosette is
beautifully hand-crafted
good order or you may well end up
stumbling. Perhaps the slightly
increased string tension contributes to
the muscular playing experience.
The fingerboard is a thick slab of
top-quality ebony but it’s those
strangely shaped bronze frets that grab
your attention from the word go. Even
the abalone butterfly inlay at the 12th
fret pales into the background beside
these curious-looking slivers of metal.
The idea behind the undulating
shapes is to vastly improve the guitar’s
intonation way beyond what is
possible with the standard straight
frets that we are all familiar with. The
process is called ‘Dynamic Intonation’
and compensates for every single note
on the neck so that each one is
completely in tune.
The quality of build and finish is
very impressive and, while this isn’t an
ostentatious-looking guitar by any
means, everything about it
nevertheless conveys an air of quality.
The soundhole rosette features
handcrafted concentric rings of
herringbone and black pinstripe
encircling a beautiful-looking circle
of crushed abalone. The herringbone
trim encircling the sound hole and
the entire circumference of
the sitka spruce top looks as
though it is made using
individual marquetry rather
than a pre-formed strip,
and the overall effect is
very impressive.
Off-the-shelf cosmetic
trimmings can’t hold a
candle to this level of
quality. There is even a
transparent scratchplate
on the top to help ward
off damage from
fingernails or picks.
The Sanden JRB-M is fitted with a
B-Band undersaddle transducer and
A1 preamp. The preamp is driven by a
single 9V battery housed in a small
pouch inside the guitar and the
end-pin doubles as the guitar’s jack
socket. The A1 system is B-Band’s
entry level preamp, but Michael
Sanden states that he actually prefers
it over the company’s range of more
elaborate systems due to the purity
of its amplified tone.
There are no EQ sliders or tone
controls at all. The only control is a
very simple rotary volume dial that’s
positioned just inside the sound hole.
Its easy to reach to make volume
adjustments, but that is all the player
can do beyond employing separate EQ
from a PA system or dedicated acoustic
guitar amplifier. However, there’s a
strong argument for letting the mix
engineer (who is in a better position to
judge what’s needed than the player
on stage) worry about the EQ. And
avoiding making a big hole in the
side of an acoustic instrument to fit
a bulky preamp can really only be
a good thing.
At first strum, the JRB-M sounds very
bright and shimmery, and you don’t
immediately notice just how much
low-end the guitar puts out until you
wonder why your chest cavity is
vibrating like a bell every time that
you dig into the bottom strings! The
impressive balance between the high
mid-range and bass reminds us of an
old-fashioned Martin acoustic, but the
bite and clarity of the high notes
sounds more modern, possibly because
the guitar is brand-new and hasn’t had
time to settle properly yet.
qualit y build and
combined with
Precise TUNING
■ The headstock is set at a steeper angle to
increase string tension for lowered tunings
■ An elegant-looking abalone butterfly inlay
graces the neck around the 12th fret
■ The unusually shaped bridge is sculpted
from high-quality Brazilian rosewood
GOLD Stars
Great tones
True Temperament
frets really work
black marks
E lectric players may
find playing hard work
ideal for...
Exacting acoustic
guitarists, especially those
using alternate tunings
The high notes have a nice crisp
‘ping’ and the sustain is very smooth.
Hard strumming doesn’t seem to
compress the sound too much and
even a fairly heavy right hand sees the
guitar projecting well without overly
compressing or ‘distorting’, despite the
abundance of punchy mid-range.
Clusters of finger picked notes
sound complex rather than cluttered,
and the guitar’s superb dynamic range
makes it easy to monitor what is going
on and make subtle changes to pick or
finger attack. Indeed, the JRB’s
dynamic range is one of its main
selling points. Play quietly and you
can still hear every individual note
clearly. Dig in and the guitar adopts a
more aggressive tone which could
almost be described as ‘funky’,
especially when dealing with the
lower registers, which have an almost
sexy guttural quality when the player
really starts to give it some welly.
Plugged in, the tone is equally
warm and easy on the ear. The
comparatively simple B-Band system
doesn’t clutter or mask the sound with
gimmicky EQ settings. The B-Band
tone is very true to the guitar’s true
guitarbuyer March 2008
acoustic sound, which is good news
given there is no facility to modify the
sound beyond changing the volume.
So, do the True Temperament frets
work? In a word, ‘yes’. Open and barre
chords no longer clash and even the
notorious open E-major chord sounds
sweeter, without the slightly
unpleasant effect that often occurs
when the in-tune open G string
suddenly goes sharp when it becomes
a G-sharp at the first fret. On alternate
tunings, like DADGAD and open D,
the improvement is even more
noticeable, with fretted notes high up
the neck remaining in tune with the
open strings. And those ‘wonky’ frets
don’t compromise playability in any
way at all and don’t require any
change in playing technique.
Body & Neck
Value for money
■ The Sanden JRB-M is a
guitar we’d describe as a
‘grower’. While it isn’t the
slickest-playing acoustic
we’ve ever strummed, its
complex, earthy tones have
the power to gradually
seduce the player and its not
long before you find yourself
returning to it again and
again. As addictions go, this
isn’t one you’ll be in any
hurry to kick.
The benefits of the True
Temperament fret system are
tangible and it is a genuine
improvement, if not truly essential
– we think that a similar guitar
fitted with conventional frets
should provide a similar level of
satisfaction to many players.
However, if you’re a real
perfectionist when it comes to
tuning, you must try this system
out. This is an expensive guitar
but it is built by somebody with
an impressive level of skill, and if
a potential owner has the talent to
match their fiscal resources, then
they will have an instrument that
they can be truly proud of. GB